Coffee Break Confidential: Illustration Wizardry; True (or Not True) Facts
I should have known that I couldn’t get away with it forever.
For the last decade or so, I’ve been a secret blog reader. I bookmark the blogs of my favorite authors and editors, check them regularly, read them thoroughly. But I’ve never contributed anything to the blogosphere. I’ve always read blogs like a spy: I find the source, gather the intel, then close the web browser and fade into the mist. Like I was never even there.
In some ways, blogs are like books. They’re generous; they enrich people’s lives without asking for anything in return. They don’t force you to engage in conversation. You don’t have to share them with other people. But the serious readers (of both books and blogs) do both of these things. They see the author’s extended hand and shake it firmly. They recognize the fact that words are not static, that we’re meant to interact with them.
Well, it’s taken ten years, but I’m finally interacting.
As the title suggests, my column here on Eerdlings will be putting my secret agent skills to good use. This is where I will divulge the extra information from Coffee Break with EBYR that would otherwise be kept off the record. I’ll be researching topics related to children’s literature and posting my findings. And I’ll be taking down some powerful militarized governments in the process. Just kidding about that last one. (Or am I?)
Before I get started, I suppose I should introduce myself. That seems like something a new blogger should do. Though I don’t think that’s the sort of thing spies do. I guess I’ll have to compromise.
Things That May or May Not Be True About Me:
- My name is Katherine.
- I’m the editorial assistant for Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
- I am fluent in 22 languages, including one that has not been invented yet.
- I’ve wanted to work in publishing ever since I was nine, when I announced to my elementary school librarian that I wanted to get paid to read when I grew up, and she told me that there were indeed jobs for that kind of thing.
- I never leave home without my lock picking set, grappling hook, and night vision goggles.
- When I’m not working, I’m usually stealing top secret documents from undisclosed locations, or making a pot of coffee. Sometimes I do both simultaneously.
Now that you (don’t) know who I am, let’s move on to a more serious topic: picture books.
Yesterday during our Coffee Break episode, Ahna and I continued our conversation about how picture books get published; this time, we specifically focused on illustrations. Some of the information we shared came from our art director/wizard/ninja/fellow spy Gayle Brown, but a good amount of Gayle’s intel had to be omitted from the video — the general public just doesn’t have the necessary security clearance. Or we ran out of time. Could be either, really. Luckily, I made copies of Gayle’s notes before they were redacted. What follows is classified information. Use it well.
Picture books are the equal marriage of the visual and the verbal. It’s not just a matter of asking an artist to decorate a text. Both the text and the artwork make their own contributions. A strong marriage results in a good story.
Or, to use another metaphor, publishing a picture book is like staging a play performance. The text of the book acts as the script, conveying the story through characters and dialogue. The illustrations are the sets, costumes, props — they complement the story while communicating their own message. Take away the visual elements, and you don’t have a play, you have a radio broadcast.
During the first reading of a manuscript, I pay very close attention to the visuals that bubble up in my imagination, the feelings, the tone of the text, and any other notions that might emerge upon first hearing the story read aloud. These first impressions are vital and help set the direction toward consideration of an illustrator or a particular style of art for the book.
When it comes to finding an illustrator and producing a picture book, there is a bit of serendipity involved, as there always is in the creative process. But there are also practical issues that must be considered, such as publication calendars, costs, and availability. The key is finding a balance between being visionary and pragmatic.
Got all that? Good. Because this message will self-destruct in thirty seconds. Unless it won’t.
(It probably won’t.)